The final season of The Legend of Korra starts streaming this Friday, summing up one of the best shows currently on television. If you haven't been watching the sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender, we have a few reasons why you should hop on this series.
You can binge-watch the earlier seasons of The Legend of Korra at Nick.com. And if you haven't watched them yet, here's why you should. Some spoilers ahead:
1. It's a female-led superhero show. Avatar: The Last Airbender didn't hurt for ass-kicking ladies: Toph, Katara, Suki, Azula's team. But The Legend of Korra give us something that we still see far too little of in our big-screen and small-screen action: a superpowered woman in the lead.
Just as TLA was anchored by Aang's journey—his guilt, the question of whether he could bring peace to the world while maintaining his personal values—The Legend of Korra is anchored by Korra's growth into the Avatar in a changing world. And the show features plenty of other interesting woman, including the brilliant engineer and heiress Asami, Aang's intensely spiritual granddaughter Jinora, and the stern police chief Lin Beifong.
2. It's a smart blend of fantasy and science fiction. The first season of The Legend of Korra takes us to Republic City, a place where technology has flourished within the fantasy world. We were impressed with how that first season integrated spectator sports, machinery, and technologically aided media with the world of bending.
The world of Korra is now packed with airships and radios, but one of the most interesting things about technology in this new series is the way the writers have used it to play with the idea of media. While Aang's story crept out slowly, to be conveyed through a somewhat apocryphal stage show, one of the early themes of Korra is what happens when an Avatar lives under constant media scrutiny. And while we're glad that Bolin gave up his short-lived career as a mover star, his Nuktuk propaganda pulps provided one of our favorite television moments of 2013.
3. It's filled with call-backs to Avatar: The Last Airbender. Some of the TLA characters are still alive by the time Korra reaches her teenage years (and thanks to the Spirit World, we even run into a long-dead character). Sometimes the older characters and younger characters even bond over their similar statuses in the story. (Spoilers in the link.)
But those are hardly the only references to the original series. One of my favorite Korra fansites is Avatar Parallels, which highlights the visual and textual similarities between the two shows. It's clear that Korra is a show that rewards long-time Avatar fans, especially those who have watched both shows closely.
4. The side characters are delightful. Really, whatever did we do before Varrick? "Zhu Li, do the thing!" The conniving gray hat introduced in Season Two has proved fascinating for his eccentricities, innovations, and unusual motives. It's fun to watch him—and his faithful assistant Zhu Li—pop up, and I'm looking forward to seeing him (and perhaps his electromagnetic suit) in the final season.
And the writers have gotten better at introducing minor characters as the series has gone on. In the third season, we met Mako and Bolin's grandmother (who wasted no time scolding the animals and making Mako's life awkward). And while Zaheer was the standout character of Season Three, his comparatively terse Red Lotus compatriots were bursting with personality.
Plus, we'll occasionally get amusing one-off characters, like Napoleon Dynamite's Jon Heder voicing an apathetic Airbender.
5. It features a strong female friendship. One of the more ill-conceived plot lines of the first two seasons was the love triangle between Korra, Mako, and Asami. But just because Korra and Asami were into the same guy, that didn't mean they resented one another. In fact, the two ended up bonding over their shared romantic history and by Season Three, they became a power pair. And their talents perfectly complement one another: Korra represents the traditional world of spiritualism and bending while Asami represents the technological future.
So it's fun to watch them fight and solve problems together. But beyond that, it's satisfying to watch these two very different women support one another, teach one another, and laugh together, forming a stronger bond than either had with their shared ex-boyfriend.
6. It's ultimately a story about family. Adult characters are more prominent in The Legend of Korra than in Avatar: The Last Airbender. That's not because the younger characters are treated as less than competent—in fact, Jinora might be the most capable character in the entire series. It's just that the adults still have stories to tell, and they still have room to grow. Many of the adult characters are children of the legendary heroes and are still coping with their upbringing under their noble but flawed parents. Tenzin may be frustrated that he will never be the spiritual genius and hero his father was, but his role as a father proves vital to the rebirth of the Air Nation. Toph gave her daughters the freedom she was denied as a child, something that ultimately fractured their sibling bond. And even though Korra starts out as something of an eldest child within Tenzin's family, she has to learn that willful independence is no substitute for the wisdom and support of her family and friends.
I suspect that family will be an important theme in the final season. After all, Mako and Bolin just discovered their family in Ba Sing Se, a city in turmoil by the end of Book 3. And it appears in the Book 4 trailer that Bolin has joined an army of his fellow Earthbenders. How will that relate to his Earth Kingdom family and his brother, Mako?
7. It may not always succeed, but it is always ambitious. Book One of Korra ended up being a bit rushed because it was designed as a single-season limited series, and while it focused too much on its teen romance, it still built an interesting new world and finally questioned bender supremacy in the Avatar world. When Book Two kicked off the series' longer story, it felt a bit regressive; Korra seemed to have forgotten many of the lessons of Book One, our characters were disjointed, and our antagonist didn't quite live up to his potential. But Korra remained a fascinating, if clunky, watch, one that asked hard questions about the role of the Avatar in times of relative peace.
And often, Korra's ambition really does pay off. When Book Two told the story of the first Avatar, it used ink and watercolor visuals to remarkable effect. When the show asked us to sympathize with a murderous band of anarchists in Book Three, it was impossible not to.
8. And sometimes, it's downright shocking. Aang's terrible mercy of locking the Fire Lord's bending abilities becomes an anti-bender weapon in Book One, and it's heartaching to watch characters who are so skilled at bending lose their abilities to the antagonist Amon.
But it's in Book 3 that things get particularly interesting. In a pair of shocking scenes, we learn the true power of Airbenders—one of which deals with with a horrible loss. That Korra can make you at once sympathize with an be repulsed by a character in a single, terrible moment is one of its great strengths.
9. Korra genuinely grows throughout the series. Yes, Korra can be a frustrating character at various points in the series. She's bull-headed, prideful, and she sometimes pushes away the people she needs most. But in the context of the series, it makes a lot of sense. She's been sheltered and spoiled and she, more than anyone else, is living in Aang's shadow, not certain what the world needs from her. So it's no wonder that she doesn't have Aang's sense of clarity and direction.
It also makes it much more satisfying to watch Korra grow into her own, to learn what she can do as the Avatar and when it is appropriate to put her life on the line. And the Book 3 finale gave Korra a profound loss of her own. It's striking to see that Korra's great battles come with great consequences, and I'm glad it's something we'll see addressed at the start of Book 4.
10. It takes bending to a whole new level. Technology isn't the only thing that has advanced since TLA. Bending has also become richer and more useful. Yes, now there are more Metalbenders and Lavabenders and the like, but the martial maneuvers of various benders have grown more interesting over time. Hardly an episode goes by that we don't see something new and interesting done with bending. And we're seeing more non-martial uses for bending as well, in art, dance, and even acupuncture.
11. The battle choreography is just stunning. I mean, just look at it. There are whole fight sequences where you can just sit back and lose yourself in the beautiful action.
Major spoilers for Book 3: